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Spiders mimic two different ant types while growing (but secretly signal spidery mates)

The growing spider S. formica (bottom) mimics Crematogaster, then Camponotus (top, ants) /Alexis Dodson

Yeah, the story does sound like as plotline from Saturday night with popcorn at the old Downtown Grand but… From ScienceDaily:

Viewed from above, the mimics look like skinny, three-segmented ants to fool predators. But in profile, the adult mimics retain their more voluptuous and alluring spider figure to woo nearby mates.

UC researchers presented their findings in January at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology conference in Tampa, Fla.

Most birds avoid ants and their painful stingers, sharp mandibles and habit of showing up with lots of friends. Try to eat one and you’re likely to get chewed on by 10 more. That’s why nearly every insect family from beetles to mantises has species that mimic ants.

By comparison, spiders are delicious and nutritious, said Alexis Dodson, a UC doctoral student and lead author.

“That’s what a lot of natural selection is all about — to convince other species not to eat you and convince members of your species to mate with you and to do so at the least cost possible,” Dodson said. …

But it’s not enough to look like an ant, Morehouse said. To fool clever predators, you have to act like one, too. The spiders have enormous back legs like ants. Spiders have an extra pair of legs compared to ants and no antennae. But ant mimics will wave their small forelegs in the air like ant antennae.

“The level of mimicry we encounter in jumping spiders is incredibly detailed,” he said. “When ants follow a trail, they weave their heads back and forth. The ant is trying to cast back and forth over a chemical trail that’s hard to find.

“Remarkably, jumping spiders also perform this weaving behavior even though it has no functional significance for them,” Morehouse said. “They’re trying to be convincing actors. They’re trying to look like an ant.” …

S. formica is unusual for another reason: It mimics two different species of ants during its lifetime. To make the illusion more convincing, adult spiders will mimic Camponotus, a bigger kind of ant than the tinier black ants called Crematogaster the young spiderlings copy.

“I think that’s the most surprising finding,” UC postdoctoral researcher and study co-author David Outomuro said. “It makes a lot of sense to mimic something that matches your size.”

Now UC researchers are studying how ant mimics communicate with each other without blowing their cover. Jumping spiders are renowned for their larger-than-life courtship rituals. Many such as the peacock jumping spider have flashy colors — iridescent blues, greens and reds — and perform showstopper courtship dances like some kind of arachnid vaudevillian.

“This is my passion project,” Dodson said. “Do they have mating rituals like other jumping spiders?”

So far Dodson has only observed what she calls “handshake” behaviors, or spiders seeming to acknowledge each other from a distance.

“It’s as if one says, ‘Hi, I’m not an ant.’ And the other says, ‘I am also not an ant,'” Dodson said. “It’s definitely there. It’s distinct from just walking around. And it’s not something I’ve seen an ant do.” – University of Cincinnati More.

Astonishing. What is astonishing about the commentary provided is that the writer in no way addresses the question of how exactly “evolution” can access and activate all the information required to perform all this deception. We will not understand evolutionary biology today if we fail to see that avoiding that question has become the unspoken goal of the discipline.

We are told about design in detail and then commanded not to think about it or else. Somehow the selfish gene does it all?

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See also: A first: Spider masquerades as leaf


Bioscience 2010: Problems With Evolution Of Mimicry “Huge”


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